This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Always reforming

The church is always reforming. Exhausting as it is, it’s a necessity. Just as our bodies continually fight death by renewing themselves every way they possibly can, healthy church bodies must do the same.

Among various conservative Anabaptist groups, a loosely organized movement of “kingdom Christians” has been emerging for several years. The term comes from David Bercot’s 2003 book, The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down.

Bercot, whose books on Christianity before the Council of Nicaea in 325 are directed mainly toward North American evangelicals, has found a receptive audience among Amish and conservative Mennonite and Brethren groups, as well as a growing number of Christians from outside historic Anabaptism interested in ante-Nicene faith and practice.

At events like the Anabaptist Identity Conference and Kingdom Fellowship Weekend, these kingdom Christians rub shoulders and hear the same speakers, and it can feel a bit like the coming together of Jews and Gentiles in the early church.

A strength of the movement is the balanced mix of its leadership between men (yes, all the leaders are men) from traditional Anabaptist backgrounds and men who are not.

Indeed, much of the movement’s vitality comes from the passion of the leaders who have discovered Anabaptism as adults — like Bercot, who has spent 30 years researching ante-Nicene Christianity; visionary Finny Kuruvilla, who is founding the Anabaptist-inspired Sattler College; and Dean Taylor, who went from a career with the U.S. Army to live in a Hutterite community after studying the New Testament.

If the Anabaptist movement started today in North America, would it look something like the kingdom Christian movement? Could we recapture the Anabaptist vision of the restoration of the church without raising extrabiblical cultural barriers?

It is happening. Anabaptism is putting on new garb. At the most recent Kingdom Fellowship Weekend Aug. 25-27 in Orrstown, Pa. — which drew about 1,200 people, including children — some Indian women’s modest dress and head coverings looked nothing like conservative Mennonite plain clothing, but they fulfilled the New Testament’s instructions well enough.

Navigating between biblical teachings and cultural traditions can be hard work. It’s encouraging to see conservative Anabaptists welcome others who share the goal of reforming and restoring.

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